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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Not Just the “Battery Criticals” — Green Energy Transition’s Mineral Intensity Requires Broader Focus: A Look at the “Solar Metals”

    Recent media coverage might have you believe critical mineral policy only revolves around the “battery criticals”lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt and manganese, and maybe the frequently referenced, though still somewhat obscure rare earths.  However, as followers of ARPN well know, this is far from the truth.

    The New South Wales Department of Planning and environment has taken a closer look at solar panels, which, just like EV batteries, are at the core of the green energy transition, and outlines the top four metals and minerals that make solar panels work: 

    Copper — a mainstay metal with perhaps unrivaled versatility, lending itself to a wide range of traditional and new applications,  and yields access to other critical minerals as a “gateway metal,” an indispensable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs and wind turbines to the electric grid and solar panels.

    For some of our most recent coverage of Copper, click here.

    Silicon — the most abundant compound in the Earth’s crust, silicon takes the form of ordinary sand, quartz, rock crystal, amethyst, agate, flint, jasper, and opal. To produce pure silicon, the compound is hearted with carbon at extra high temperatures.  The material is used extensively in electronics because of its semiconducting properties. It is used in the manufacture of next-gen 5-nanometer (5nm) semiconductor chips, and is a key component of solar panels and photovoltaic cells.

    For ARPN’s recent coverage of Silicon, click here.

    Silver — By definition a “precious” metal like gold, it may come as a surprise to those who see silver primarily as shiny adornment or a means to store value that the biggest end users of silver may actually be specialized industries. More recently, the metal has evolved from “money metal to techno metal,” as North of 60 Mining News’s Shane Lasley termed it, with its true value lying in “more industrious properties that make it invaluable to high-tech applications such as solar panels, electric vehicles, and 5G networks.”

    For Shane Lasley’s Treatment of Silver in the 2021 issue of “Critical Mineral Alliances” click here.

    Zinc — primarily used in metallurgical applications, zinc is also a Gateway metal, yielding access to “criticals” Indium and Germanium. Today, zinc is also seeing greater application in green energy technology.

    For examples of ARPN coverage of Zinc, click here and here.

    These four may not make the top of the hour news at the moment, but silicon, for example, appears on the Australian and European Union’s critical minerals lists, while zinc, previously not on the U.S. Critical Minerals List, was afforded critical mineral status by the U.S. Government earlier this year, and is also deemed critical by the Canadian government.

    As for copper – which Canada considers a critical mineral – followers of ARPN well know that there are good reasons to include Copper into the U.S. Government’s Critical Minerals List, and ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty has consistently argued in favor of doing so via public comments during the draft process of both the initial 2018List and its 2022 iteration.

    See McGroarty’s public comments on the U.S. Critical Minerals Lists here and here.

    The bottom line is, while people appear to be laser focused on achieving the green energy transition via securing supply chains for the battery criticals and rare earths, the issue is bigger than this limited group of metals and minerals.  With the materials science revolution continuing to yield research breakthroughs at neck-breaking speeds, demand scenarios for metals and minerals will be subject to change.

    It is clear that in the words of Forbes contributor Wal van Lierop, “[w]ithout massive investments in base metals and key minerals, Europe and North America will fail to meet their carbon emission targets and face a new form of energy insecurity,” — but these investments have to be made in the context of a broad-based “all of the above” strategy.  

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  • New Report Warns: Looming Copper Shortfall Could Delay Global Shift Away From Fossil Fuels

    The mainstream media and parts of the political establishment may just now have begun to realize it — but followers of ARPN have long known that our nation’s critical mineral woes are real, and go beyond the often discussed battery criticals (lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and manganese) and include one of the key mainstay metals: Copper.

    Less flashy and headline-grabbing than some of its tech metal peers, copper deserves far more credit and attention than it is currently receiving. ARPN has long touted copper’s versatility stemming from its traditional uses, new applications and Gateway Metal status.

    A quick look at a 2018 Visual Capitalist chart also makes unmistakably clear that copper is also an irreplaceable component for advanced energy technology, ranging from EVs over wind turbines and solar panels to the electric grid, and as such an indispensable building block of the green energy transition:

    5F5E0C59-4112-4C46-B858-CB45D5725666

    Copper — and its mainstay metal peer aluminum — are to be found in all four categories, hardware, electric motors, distribution & fuel and energy storage. The average EV requires four times more copper than gas powered vehicles, and the expansion of electricity networks will lead to more than doubled copper demand for grid lines, according to the IEA.

    Consequently, it should not come as a surprise that a new report has taken a closer look at the copper supply picture in the context of the global push toward net zero carbon.

    As reported by Bloomberg, a new S&P Global study “warns of ‘unprecedented and untenable’ copper shortfalls in the coming decade as suppliers grapple with a near doubling of demand by 2035. Prices that fell below $7,500 this week are seat to soar back above their $10,845 peak later this decade, driven by the metal’s key role in the clean-energy and transport industries.”

    Current market slowdowns notwithstanding, forecasts see long term demand reaching around 50 million tons by 2035 from 25 million today, and an annual supply shortfall of almost 10 million tons could open up in 2035 according to the study — which would amount to the “equivalent to 20% of demand projected to be required for a 2050 net-zero world.”

    The “burgeoning supply gap would increase the US’s reliance on copper imports from 44% to as much as 67% by 2035,” writes Bloomberg. Ultimately, supply shortages could become “so severe and prices so high in coming years that they risk delaying the global shift away from fossil fuels.”

    As the Wall Street Journal pointed out earlier this year, there is no easy way out of the critical mineral resource challenge, as “years of underinvestment in new mines means they don’t have additional production that can be brought on quickly. After a decadelong focus on productivity, existing operations are mostly running at full tilt. Difficulties in getting permits to build pits and community opposition have slowed developments in some countries, and scuttled projects in others.”

    And, as Laura Skaer, a member of the board of directors of the Women’s Mining Coalition and former director of the American Exploration & Mining Association, outlined in a piece for Morning Consult last summer, the challenge is not just mining, but also processing:

    “Last year, the United States imported 37 percent of the copper we used. China already refines 50 percent of the world’s copper and the United States only refines about 3 percent. National security experts have warned that relying on China for critical supply-chain materials like refined copper poses a serious threat to America’s national security interests.”

    However, as we previously argued,

    “from a U.S. supply perspective, there is reason to be optimistic. While snubbing the material again for its updated Critical Minerals List, the Biden Administration has recognized copper as an integral component of Lithium-ion battery technology, in the context of being what we have called a ‘gateway metal‘ to other critical materials, and for its ‘use across many end-use applications aside from lithium-ion cells, including building construction, electrical and electronic products, transportation equipment, consumer and general products, and industrial machinery and equipment’ in its 100-Day Supply Chain Review report.

    Coupled with new reports that ‘US regulators are warming to approving new domestic sources of electric vehicle battery metals, as Washington bids to avoid a reliance on strategic minerals imports similar to that on crude oil,’ this is an encouraging development.”

    Thankfully, the private sector is ready to step up to the plate, harnessing advances in materials science and technology to help develop critical mineral resource supplies while maintaining and advancing sustainable mining practices. With the stakes ever-increasing, now is the time to unleash our nation’s mineral potential.

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  • The Reorganization of the Post-Cold War Geopolitical Landscape and its Impact on Critical Mineral Supply – A Look at Copper

    Pandemic induced supply chain shocks, increasing resource nationalism in various parts of the world, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exactly one month ago have brought the stakes for securing critical mineral resource supply chains to a whole new level. The emerging geopolitical landscape has sent countries scrambling to devise strategies to not only ensure steady [...]
  • Another Wrinkle in the EV Race – To Address Semiconductor Shortage, Let’s Begin at the Beginning

    Over the past few weeks, we dove into the materials challenges associated with the accelerating EV revolution, outlining that while general awareness of immense mineral intensity of the green energy transition is growing, misconceptions in terms of how to address the challenge persist, with too many still subscribing to the notion that we can recycle, [...]
  • Two For Four — New Critical Minerals Draft List Includes Two of Four Metals Recommended For Inclusion by ARPN in 2018

    With the addition of 15 metals and minerals bringing the total number up to 50, this year’s draft updated Critical Minerals List, for which USGS just solicited public comment, is significantly longer than its predecessor. This, as USGS notes, is largely the result of “splitting the rare earth elements and platinum group elements into individual entries [...]
  • “Supply Chain” Begins With “Supply:” Department of Commerce 100-Day Report Chapter on Complex Semiconductor Supply Chain

    Current news coverage may have you believe that when it comes to critical minerals, all we’re talking about is Rare Earths and battery tech metals, such as Lithium, Cobalt, Manganese, Nickel and Graphite. However, while certainly extremely important for 21st Century technology, these materials and the sectors in which they find key applications only represent [...]
  • DoD Chapter of 100-Day Supply Chain Report Acknowledges Gateway/Co-product Challenge

    Friends of ARPN will know that “much of our work is grounded in a conviction that the Technology Age is driven by a revolution in materials science – a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies.” In this [...]
  • Canada’s Just-Released List of 31 Critical Minerals Includes Key Gateway Metals

    As demand for critical minerals is increasing in the context of the global shift towards a green energy future, Canada’s Minister of Resources Seamus O’Regan Jr. earlier this week announced the release of a Canadian list of 31 metals and minerals deemed critical “for the sustainable economic success of Canada and our allies—minerals that can [...]
  • Materials Science Revolution Continues to Yield Breakthroughs – a Look at Scandium

    Did you turn on the TV to watch the SpaceX Crew Dragon take off en route to the International Space Station yesterday only to be disappointed?  The long-awaited historic first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly nine years has been postponed due to weather, but there’s a still good chance we will [...]
  • ARPN’s McGroarty for The Hill: Strength through Peace – Dropping Sec. 232 Tariffs on Aluminum and Steel Could Strengthen U.S. Position vis-a-vis China

    In a new piece for The Hill, ARPN’s Dan McGroarty zeroes in on the inter-relationship of trade and resource policy, which has been an increasingly recurring theme over the past few months. McGroarty argues that the removal of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum coming from Mexico and Canada, which have been a “dead weight on [...]

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